Can Byron best Bestwick again?
Australian Vert and Big Air rider Vince Byron has been billed as "Next in Line" by his peers and fans since earning his first X Games medal in 2011. The line was short, but the wait was long. That's what happens when you're behind Jamie Bestwick, the most successful vert rider in history.
Byron had competed in Bestwick's big shadow since his X Games debut in 2010. That all changed at Austin 2015. Bestwick entered the comp heavily favored to claim his tenth consecutive BMX Vert gold and extend his record-setting X Games streak. Byron had other ideas. "Everyone in BMX likes to say it's not about competition, but the fact is I always come in looking to do my best, and I have to believe that my best will be enough to win," Byron says. "Run 1 at X Games last year was when it finally all came together."
Byron was the fifth rider to drop, and his first run score held up for the rest of the comp. It was the contest pass Byron had stuck in his head for several years: flair tailwhip, double tailwhip, downside tailwhip to seat grab, flair barspin to invert, with just enough time left to nail an X Games first: a 540 flair he'd learned earlier in the year. Even as he celebrated the dream run, he didn't believe it would be enough -- Bestwick still had two opportunities to top it.
"I had this great feeling of relief, because I had been working towards that run for quite a while," Byron says. "I'd struggled in 2014 when BMX Vert was in downtown Austin in front of all those people. I ended up in last place, so I'd put a lot of pressure on myself and it was a big weight off my shoulders. For it to take first place was icing on the cake."
The victory at Austin 2015 actually was the second time Byron has triumphed over Bestwick during his career; he also won at the Dew Tour in 2011, with Simon Tabron in second and Bestwick in third. Despite the X Games gold, Byron concedes that Bestwick, now 44 years old, is still the man to beat.
"The rivalry doesn't mean much to me," Bryon says. "Jamie's always been pretty friendly to me. He was helpful as I was coming up and gracious in defeat. For me it was more about finally getting the run down that I'd been wanting to do for the past few years, especially since there's a lot less contests now. It's more important than ever to make it count. I know that to do it again I'm going to have to dig deep, because he is still, incredibly, at the top of his game. He's beatable, but he might also go and win the next nine in a row. It's inspiring, for sure."
For his part, Bestwick has been unfailingly complimentary about Byron. "Last year was Vince's year," Bestwick says. "He rode the better of us, no question. The 540 flair was a great trick, and I'm stoked that he pulled it off. I think BMX Vert needed that shot in the arm."
When Byron digs deep, he tends to bring out tricks never before seen in competition. In addition to that 540 flair in 2015, his list of competition firsts include the 540 Superman seat grab (2013) and the double tailwhip 540 (2011). What will 2016 bring? "I've always got something I'm working on, but I like to keep some cards up my sleeve," he says coyly.
Now that he has BMX Vert gold in his collection, Byron says he's just as focused on claiming a Big Air win as he is on defending his Vert crown, and he'd like to bring a never-been-done trick to that contest, too. He has three Big Air silver medals, the most recent from Los Angeles 2013. However, the wind at the Circuit of the Americas venue has left him frustrated and off the podium, and he isn't mincing words. "I think the riding level in Big Air has been garbage the last few years with the weather conditions and other obstacles," he says. "I've seen a lot higher skill level in the past, and it was doubly frustrating because the crowds out there on that hill have just been enormous, by far the most people I've ever seen at a BMX contest. I felt like I was letting all those people down. I know what I'm capable of, and on a big stage like that you always want to feel like you're at your best. Let's just say there are tricks on my mind, gold medal-type tricks, that I've been wanting to do for the last couple years, but I'm not going to say more about them because, as we've seen, plans can literally change with the wind."
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